India Tiger Virus Threatens To Kill Off Endangered Species

Gregory Wakeman

An Indian tiger virus is threatening to kill off the endangered species, after several tigers tested positive for an illness that is usually associated with dogs, but is deadly to other carnivores.

Rajesh Gopal, who works for the Indian government's National Tiger Conservation Authority, confirmed that the canine distemper virus has killed off at least four tigers over the last 12 months. It's also been revealed that several other animals have dwindled in numbers across northern and eastern India because of the disease too.

Indian officials are now set to test every tiger carcass that it finds for distemper. Gopal also announced that officials are planning to start a huge campaign to try and vaccinate dogs. However, this will be a massive undertaking, as there are millions of stray dogs roaming around the country.

Gopal admitted, "We cannot vaccinate every dog, of course. But even 50 percent of dogs in the zones around sanctuaries would help."

However, it might already be too late. Other scientists have called the findings "disturbing," and evidence suggests that the disease has alrady spread rapidly across different areas in India. Experts believe that it is now in the wild, but they are set to conduct more research to confirm these suspicions.

Dr. A.K. Sharma, a head scientist at the Indian Veterinary Research Institute, where the canine distemper lab tests were conducted, noted, "These are very disturbing finds. The cases were quite distant from each other, and the latest was an area where there are no dogs. So it appears the virus is spreading."

Since two cubs were found with the virus last year, a red panda, two wild tigers and a zoo lion have contracted the illness. Sharma added, "In the last case, forest guards said they saw the animal in a confused state before it died."

However, some experts believe that officials are wasting their time trying to control the outbreak.

Ullas Karanth, a director at the Wildlife Conservation Society remarked, "Thinking we can control this is totally unrealistic. We have to live with it now, and assess whether it's really serious yet. What South Africa has done, quarantining huge areas and creating disease-free spaces in the wild, is not feasible here."

Wild tigers are already an endangered species in India, and in 2011 it was reported that that there were only 1,706 left in the country. Rampant poaching of the creature and India's huge development in order to house its 1.2 billion population, which has lead to the animal's habitats being destroyed, have left the animal severely at risk.

[Image via Chris Humphries/Shutterstock]